Category Archives: projects

New Old, Same Old

At this time of year, there are lots of people taking assessments of the previous year and planning adjustments for the coming one. Initially, I had been resisting that urge, but as I’ve given it some thought, I realize that there are some reflections worth noting now, whether it is the start of a new year or just a new day.

This Christmas was a really good one for me, and also a very hard one, which is just to say that I had to work really hard to make it good. But I did it, and I’m glad. One of the things I did was go to church for the midnight service on Christmas Eve. I haven’t been to church in a very long time, mainly because I’m not exactly the world’s most religious person. Spiritual, yes. Religious… not really. But this year I think I wanted a little push in the right direction, to wake up the spirit in me.

One of the things the pastor talked about was this idea of pure joy, and the fact that it’s one of those things that is only accomplished when we find ways to fill up the God-sized hole left in us when we’re born. His message was that God fills this hole up for us, and that the birth of Jesus was his Christmas gift to us. (By way of disclosure, this is all just my interpretation of his sermon, but honestly, my point is less in what he actually said and more in how it moved me.) I sat there thinking about it, honestly feeling a bit disappointed. Because I’ve done the church thing, and I’ve really believed in Jesus and tried to let him fill that hole for me. And you know what happened? I inspired a lot of people while my hole just got bigger. There were many nights I showed up to church completely drunk, led worship, had people coming up to me saying how inspired they were, and then slipped off to the graveyard behind the church to sob because no one could see how empty (and positively wasted) I was.

So what does that mean? Did I pray wrong? Do I not believe enough? Am I the exception? This was not the Christmas message I was hoping to get.

But I’ve given it some thought, and I think that maybe not everybody finds God in a church. There are other things that fill me up in the way God fills up our pastor. Things like going on a long hike up a mountain and sitting at the top, enjoying the silence in the clouds and an incredible view. Or the thrill of riding a really fast roller coaster or jumping out of an airplane. Or creating something – a short story, a photograph, a knitting project, a drawing. Traveling to places I’ve never seen before, getting to know and understand a new culture, visiting old friends. Helping people. These things are my church, and even though I know they fill me up, I let them go, every day, in the name of Routine.

I read this blog post last week and it really inspired me, especially the last paragraph:

For me this year in 2011 I am going to focus on what it means to live this life. To be alive. I want to reinvent what living means to me.

And I think that’s what I want, too. I don’t want to change who I am, or lose weight, or find my way from point a to point b (though those things would be nice side effects). I want to find ways to augment the things in my life that fill me up.

There are specific things I’ve come up with to accomplish this. I don’t know if I’ll follow through on them all, but the beauty is that I don’t have to do these specific things. It could be anything that accomplishes the same goal. But here goes, because lists are a nice way to look and see what specific accomplishments have been made.

  • I joined the Appalachian Mountain Club and plan to attend their backpacking seminar so that Billy and I can go on our first backpacking trip ever this spring, summer, or fall.
  • I filled out an application to volunteer for Free Arts NYC, which will allow me to work with underprivileged kids on art as a way of coping with life.
  • Billy and I are hoping to go to meet Siggi and Brett in Germany this summer, so I’ve been attempting to learn German on my own. So far I’ve gotten to where I can say to Billy, “Du bist ein affe!”
  • I’m thinking about writing a book. This is actually a really huge undertaking, and I’m not positive it’s something I really want to tackle right now, but I’m thinking about it, and I’m saying I’m thinking about it. That’s a good first step for now, I think.

So is this a turning point, as we turn the page from 2010 to 2011? I don’t know. Probably not. I think all of life is about little turning points and big ones, and they don’t always coincide with the numbers on the calendar. But it’s probably as good a reason as any to think about it, and so here we are.


Crafting

There have been many projects going on in the month of December. None of any real significant consequence, but I’m happy with them. Here are two that I’m working on now.

I started this blanket in early September on a whim and vowed to finish it in 2010. Technically it’s not finished, but I am done with the knitting, so I say it counts. It will look nicer once it’s blocked, and I’ll share again.

I added this drop stitch scarf to my list of projects to start during the summer when it was a bit more fashionable. I finally started it about a week ago. This one will also need some serious blocking when it’s done.


A few notes about my holiday playlist

I created a holiday party playlist for a party I went to recently, and as I was listening to it I realized that some of the selections were, shall we say, a little nontraditional. But I stand by my choices. Want to know more about The Best Holiday Playlist Ever Made? Here you go. Just remember, you asked for it.

“All the Way,” by Billie Holiday: Well, the answer’s in the artist’s name. Plus, when is Billie Holiday ever NOT appropriate?
“Angel,” by Sarah McLachlan: I don’t know about you, but at Christmastime, I could sure use the touch of an angel’s arms to lift me out of my strife.
“Believe,” by Lenny Kravitz: “If you want it, you’ve got to believe.” That, my friends, is the epitome of Santa Claus.
“ChamPain,” by Cee Lo Green: Everyone drinks champagne on Christmas, right?
“Clocks,” by Coldplay: Doesn’t the piano sound sort of like Christmas chimes to you? I thought it did. It’s on the list.
“December,” by Collective Soul: Answer’s in the title. I don’t even know what the lyrics of this song are about. I’ve never listened to them.
“Elegantly Wasted,” by INXS: That pretty much describes Christmas dinner for me. Although this year, not for me since I am now almost five months sober. Still a good song.
“Faith,” by George Michael: Really? Do you have to ask? What is Christmas all about if not about faith?
“Fat Bottomed Girls,” by Queen: What do we expect after eating all those holiday cookies?
“Feeling Alright,” by Joe Cocker: Christmas had me feeling alright this year. Add it to the list.
“Figure Me Out,” by Jennings: I discovered this band at an art show on Governor’s Island this year and I really love them so they are on every playlist I have. They qualify for everything right now.
“Fireflies,” by Owl City: The image of millions of fireflies lighting up seems very Christmassy to me. Even if there are not generally fireflies around here during the winter.
“Georgia,” by Cee Lo Green: Someone must travel to Georgia for Christmas. OK, even I’ll admit, that’s a little weak.
“Holiday,” by Madonna: Holiday! Celebrate! What could be more appropriate!
“I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” by the Scissor Sisters: I almost always feel like dancing at Christmastime, but that’s kind of the irony of this song, right? It totally makes me want to dance, every time I hear it.
“I Say A Little Prayer,” by Aretha Franklin: This was a special year for me because I actually went to church on Christmas Eve. And I said a little prayer. For you.
“I’ll Take You There,” by the Staple Singers: They’re obviously singing about taking you to the North Pole, right?
“Let it Be,” by the Beatles: Billy really doesn’t get this one. But it’s all about Mother Mary! Come on!
“Love Train,” by the O’Jays: OK, this one is kind of an inside joke for me, since it always reminds me of that one Christmas party where we played this song after lots of people were already pretty drunk, and I remember we conga-lined ourselves into the bedroom where a friend had passed out. She had a chihuahua jumping all over her and a room full of people screaming the words to “Love Train” and she didn’t stir. But did we check for signs of life? No, we just sang louder. Perfect holiday song.
“Low Shoulder,” by Toro Y Moi: This actually came off a best of summer CD, but I thought it was appropriate for Christmas, too. You are free to disagree if you wish.
“Maria,” by Blondie: This song just rocks. Christmas rocks. Works for me.
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: I have to be honest. I don’t know what the hell this song has to do with Christmas. I just liked it.
“New Soul,” by Yael Naim: Christmas is kind of about birth, right? Maybe rebirth? Hm, maybe not.
“Nightingale,” by Norah Jones: I love bird-watching around the holidays.
“Peel Me A Grape,” by Diana Krall: Honestly, I regret adding this one to the list. I don’t like it and I don’t think it fits with the theme of the season.
“Poker Face,” by Lady Gaga: Tell me this song doesn’t raise the spirit of the season for you. Srsly.
“Recognize,” by The Juice to Make it Happen: “Gonna to take a second to recognize why I need you by my side…” It’s a love song all about Christmas.
“Rehab,” by Amy Winehouse: Try to make me go to rehab? On Christmas? Are you fucking nuts??
“Scenario,” by Tribe Called Quest: Hm. This is another one I’m not sure I can answer. But it’s another kick-ass song that somehow seems to end up on all my playlists. And for good reason.
“Suspicious Minds,” by Elvis Presley: This was actually added by request. Billy wanted an Elvis Christmas song on the list. I hate “Blue Christmas,” so this is what he got.
“Touch of My Hand,” by Britney Spears: The instrumental bits of this one feel very old-world and spiritual to me. I have no idea what the lyrics are about, but they’re irrelevant anyway.
“Umbrella,” by Rihanna feat. Jay-Z: When it snows outside, wouldn’t YOU want an umbrella??
“Unskinny Bop,” by Poison: I kind of debated on this one, but Sharon said that if Die Hard can be classified as a Christmas movie, then “Unskinny Bop” can be a Christmas song. And I think she’s right.
“Wake Up Call,” by Maroon 5: Who doesn’t dream of blowing off the head of their girlfriend’s boyfriend at Christmastime?
“Warm Ways,” by Fleetwood Mac: So many Christmas songs are about being cold and the snow. It’s about time someone came up with a Christmas song about being WARM for a change.
“Your Precious Love,” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: Everyone’s love is precious at Christmastime, and what better song to remind you of that!

If anyone wants the complete list, or for me to burn a CD for them, let me know. This list is as awesome as it sounds.


Ho Ho Yo’ mama.

You know you have created the ultimate holiday playlist when the first song that comes on is “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley. I know it’s arrogant of me to say so, but I honestly think that people who don’t appreciate my taste in music (and my interpretation of holiday songs) are crazy. Everyone should blare my playlist as loud as possible as often as possible AND LOVE IT.

Maybe it has something to do with denial over the utter lack of holiday cheer in my cold, black heart these days, but I have been trying to play up the Santa bit lately. I’ve created a holiday songlist that includes Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” and pulled out glitter and glue to make holiday cards. I even plugged in the piano for the first time this year so I could try to remember how to play B-flat-maj7 in “Silent Night.” I’m knitting like mad and planning my trip to the post office to pick out this year’s letter to Santa to answer.

It’d all make me puke if I actually believed it was making me happier. I don’t want to accept that I’m unhappy. Again. Better to live in peppermint bliss and gingerbread-scented ignorance.

For brief, hazy moments, I even find myself thinking it’s actually working.


Challenge.


Wouldn’t it be nice to spend a whole day just searching for one beautiful thing to remember it by? Sometimes it must be easier than others. But imagine if you collected 365 days of beauty and you could flip through it when you were feeling low, and keep adding to it to keep it – and you – alive.

In mid-July I started snapping photos with my Hipstamatic iPhone app with the idea of doing one a day, every day, for a year. I’ve done these 365 day projects before and I think the farthest I’ve ever gotten was under 200 days. But I figured, what the hell. The worst that happens is I end up with a bunch of interesting photos to string together in a sequence. How can that hurt?

So far I haven’t missed a day. For those who don’t feel like counting that high, today is day 64.* And yes, I have an app to tell me that, too.

But what if I up the ante for these next 301 days? What if I say to myself that I will photograph one beautiful thing every day with my fake toy camera (phone)? What will I end up with at the end of a year? Will it lift me up on days I’d rather not open my eyes? Will I crumble under the pressure? What if I can’t find one beautiful thing every day? Is that even possible?

So many questions. But I am not one to turn down a challenge.

*I realize that there are more than 64 photos in my set, but that’s because I started and stopped this project a few times before I really got on a roll.


Assessment.

It’s been a good weekend so far. Saturday I ended up spending the day in, knitting and watching football, on account of Billy’s bum foot. It must really be bothering him, too, because he made an appointment to see a doctor tomorrow, and let’s just say he would only do that if the only other alternative was getting out the hacksaw.

Yesterday I managed to get out to the beach one last time, and it was a lovely day. We have a routine pretty much down pat at this point – leave Queens at 9:30am, arrive to Hampton Bays by 11:30, stop at Tully’s (gosh, they don’t have a website!) for some deep fried awesomeness, brave the flooded roads, and arrive to the beach by noonish. We hit the restroom at 4:45 before they close at 5, and then usually back on the road by 5:30. It’s friggin’ awesome. Yesterday’s trip was no exception. The cooler weather (mid-70’s) and high wind (seriously) kept most people off the beach, so it was quiet (with only one or two exceptions, and you know who you are). I was surprised when I got home, though, that my hair wasn’t sticking out permanently to the left side of my face. It was, however, what one might describe as a rat’s nest. I tried to brush it out when I got home but gave up mid-brush. I think the brush may still be in there somewhere.

I also did some knitting yesterday. I’ve started a pair of socks, as well as a baby blanket. Again, I don’t really have anyone in mind for these projects, but I was getting to where if I didn’t have something to knit right away, I was going to be quite unpleasant to be around. And I became instantly relaxed. I love knitting, almost to an unhealthy degree. At the very least, it’s a productive hobby, because when I finish a project, I’ve got a gift to give! And a handmade gift is generally much appreciated, in my experience.

Today I’m thinking about how the summer is starting to wind down a bit. I am looking back to my list for the year (which, by the way, has been a great reference to keep me focused on FUN things and not CRAPPY things) and thinking about how I’ve done a pretty good job so far! Some of these things won’t get done this year (I’m thinking getting to the cherry blossom festival in DC is probably out this year, since it was in April), but they will be good goals for next year, too. I think it’s time to add a few new goals for fall, too. Things like:

  • learn how to play “The Entertainer” on the piano

  • go to the Dutchess County Sheep & Wool Festival
  • go pumpkin picking
  • bake a peach pie
  • carve a jack-o-lantern and light it on Halloween
  • make chili in the slow cooker, watch Rudy, and drink apple cider on a college football game day
  • go for a fall foliage hike

I can and probably will come up with more items for the list, too. But this is a good start.


Taking a bite out of the big apple


A theme in my life over the last couple of years has been the building level of stress that I’ve been trying my best to ignore. Turns out that ignoring stress doesn’t make it go away. So over the last three weeks or so I’ve been trying to take some specific steps to stem my anxiety and chill out a little. The hope is that by doing so, I’ll have more time and energy to do things I enjoy, I’ll fit into my own pants again, and I’ll be more fun to be around.

The trip to Acadia was an amazing eye-opener for me. I discovered that with a decent amount of sleep, plenty of time in the outdoors, and some playful exercise (as in climbing up a mountain, biking to a pond, kayaking, tubing) actually filled me up in ways I haven’t felt full in ages. So I’ve been trying my best to keep the spirit of that trip alive as best I can. I’ve kept the TV turned off a lot more. We listen to baseball games now and play cards instead of sitting like lumps on the recliners. We use the new free time to keep the apartment clean and pleasant. We cook our meals instead of going out for burgers and beer. Not only have we saved money, but we’ve eaten quite well and I’ve even lost a couple pounds. That’s without adding in any exercise.

I’ve also made quiet time for after 9:30 so I can be in bed and asleep by 10:30. I can’t tell you how much this has done for me. I feel like a new person just by sleeping more. It’s awesome.

All of these things have reawakened some creative spirit in me, too. I’ve got more time to write! And to take pictures. Instead of thinking about project ideas I think might be fun, I’m just doing them. Over the weekend, after a trip to the local greenmarket, I found myself with some free time so I tried an experiment. One apple, 25 photos. I kind of thought it would be neat. I kind of cheated a bit, and I’m a little disappointed in how it turned out once I gave in and started altering the apple, but I like how it made me think creatively. Some of the images I quite like. One is a little risque so you have to go through a safety filter to see it, but I think it is my favorite of the bunch. I don’t know that it’s any great work of art, but it was an exercise that made me feel good about me. I know not everyone can understand that, but that’s part of what makes it special. It’s entirely mine.